Wednesday Winners: The Advertising Spigot Re-Opens

The economic slowdown was especially pronounced in the media and advertising industries as companies grew weary of promoting products to cash-strapped customers who weren’t going to buy their products anyway. But consumer spending has started to perk up, leading ad budgets to re-open. Large media companies are now speaking of moderate revenue growth this year and some small niche players are seeing even more robust opportunities.

#-ad_banner-#One rising name is DG FastChannel (Nasdaq: DGIT), which provides digital delivery services for major media companies. In recent years, the company has steadily increased the types of services it offers customers, and reaping the benefits as sales are rising at an accelerating pace. Sales growth, which had exceeded +30% each year in 2006, 2007 and 2008, cooled to +22% in 2009, but looks set to move back up above the +30% mark again this year and next.

DG FastChannel shows the true power of earnings leverage. As reported before the opening, cash flow rose more than +70% in the first quarter on a +31% jump in sales. That helped push shares up +13% to an all-time high this morning. Look for continued earnings leverage, as clients look to focus on more higher-margin high-definition ads and programming.

Despite the steady climb in the shares, they’re not expensive at around 20 times likely 2011 profits (which will be reflected after the consensus estimate has been raised). There’s a party going on here, but it’s not too late to join.

Company Name (Ticker) Intra-Day Price Market Cap 52-Week High 52-Week Low 2010* P/E 2011* P/E
DG Fast Channel (Nasdaq: DGIT) $40.50 $993M $42.15 $16.39 30.5 23.0
Conseco (NYSE: CNO) $6.52 $1.6B $7.04 $1.58 11.4 9.4
Esco (NYSE: ESE) $33.00 $873M $46.87 $28.55 22.0 17.6
*Based on consenus estimates prior to recent earnings release


“Look ahead, not behind.” That’s the suggestion from execs at Esco (NYSE: ESE), which sells a range of smart-grid products that boost the efficiency of utilities. Why look ahead? Because although sales in the most recent quarter fell from a year ago, backlog has swelled, implying an eventual sales turnaround. Investors took the bait, as shares are up nearly +15% in today’s trading, following the release of second-quarter earnings after Tuesday’s close.


Shares of insurer Conseco (Nasdaq: CNO) are rising from the ashes, as the company slowly re-builds its tattered reputation. The Indiana-based firm was once a highly-coveted insurance play, growing so quickly that it bought the naming rights to a National Basketball Association arena (a sure-fire kiss-of-death, in hindsight). Management malfeasance eventually led to an investor exodus, and by last spring, many assumed that Conseco would not survive the financial crisis.

But recent capital injections and a much healthier operating outlook, as reflected in the company’s solid first-quarter earnings report after the close Tuesday, have management speaking of “the new Conseco.” The long-standing taint associated with past management has kept this stock off many radars, so despite an +11% spike in the shares today, they still trade for just 42% of tangible book value. As the company now looks to be finished with its share-diluting capital-raising exercises, Conseco is likely to see further buying interest in the quarters to come.